The truth is…
Dan Abnett, my husband
photo by James K Barnett
Christmas was a bit weird this year.
We Christmassed by FaceTime, Zoom and Skype, and we stayed in touch with the people that really matter, including getting videos of kids opening gifts… Some of their favourites as it turned out, so that was nice.
We actually made Christmas lunch for two, and then ate it on trays in the drawing room, because, why the hell not?
We had a very relaxed, happy time, which was nice for us.
The government got it wrong, though. We would have posted gifts to friends and family in other parts of the country, had we known that we wouldn’t be able to see them. As it happens, it was far too late to post anything once the announcement was made.
I’ll refer you back to my post I don’t really want to blog about Covid.
I hope that everyone managed to have a decent festive season, but I suspect there were many sad and lonely people out there, who could have been helped much more.
Dan works so much that we rarely have real down-time. When he’s not actually writing, he’s reading, or taking onboard stimulus for various projects. Everything is work for him, whether he’s mapping out a town, and making notes on architecture; visiting a museum or gallery; watching a movie, reading a book, or catching up with the news… Very little in Dan’s life is strictly outside of work. That’s why he carries a notebook with him, everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, including from room to room in the house.
Of course, there were moments, during our break, when Dan jotted something down in his notebook, because we did watch some tv and he did browse some books, but this is the first time in a very long time that he decided, essentially, to do nothing.
I think the rest has probably done him good, because, this morning, he was up with the larks, and I haven’t seen him yet. Writing makes him happy, and he’s clearly on a roll, so there’s no chance I’m going to interfere with that.
Those of us who can spend our lives doing something we love are among the luckiest people on Earth. I know lots of people, and lots of writers who have a day job, and many of them would very much rather be doing something else.
Not everyone can turn their hobby Into their livelihood, but that’s probably because, for most people, their hobby actually is a hobby. They might take a great deal of interest in something, but when only an hour a day or a few hours a week is devoted to that thing, how is it possible to get good enough to make a living at it?
Many writers, perhaps most, throughout history, have had a job, patronage, or a private income. It’s a difficult thing to do well if it’s impossible to work full-time at writing.
Some people simply are what they do, and Dan fits that category.
I’m a jack of all trades, and master of sod-all.
Yes, I write a bit, and I’ve had some small success doing it. I also enjoy it, when the spirit moves. But, I have other creative interests. The second time I went to university it was to study fine art, so I draw and paint. Now, I concentrate on throwing pots on the wheel, and spend more time doing that than writing. During the pandemic, I’ve also taken up sewing and knitting again, both very satisfying occupations. It is rare for me not to have a piece of work in my hands. I’m not idle, but I focus on many things, and switch between them.
Sometimes, success isn’t about talent, it’s about intent… perhaps it’s even about the inability to do anything but the thing you’re intent on.
Dan is a writer. The two full-time jobs he did, way back in the eighties and nineties, were in comics, which, while being a useful apprenticeship, never stopped him writing every hour of every day that he wasn’t doing his salaried job.
If I had an apprenticeship, part of it was that I wrote, but some of it was certainly watching how Dan works, which is to say, relentlessly… Relentlessly, and with the confidence of a person who has spent their life in a single pursuit.
Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. He proposes that anyone who practices a skill for ten thousand hours has the talent, the smarts or the capability of being successful.
For those who work a forty hour week, with holidays, that’s between five and six years of work.
That isn’t what people like Dan do, though.
I’ve seen this with my daughter, too. While she was at university, with a full course load, she averaged more than forty hours a week making theatre. Ironically, her degree was in theatre, so I have no idea how many hours she clocked up, but just in her spare time at university, she covered more than half of those ten thousand hours. Add in her four years in youth theatre, six years of dance training, and various theatre-related jobs, along with her volunteer work with a theatre company, and she clocked up her ten thousand hours of practice very young.
Celebrity culture might fool some people into thinking that anyone can be successful. It only proves that anyone can be famous.
So, if I had a piece of advice for those of you who want to pursue a career in the arts, I’d have to suggest that you put in the hours, work with relentless intent, and have the confidence to share that work.
I feel the compulsion to make, and sometimes that includes writing, but it took me a lot longer than it took Dan to get those ten thousand hours under my belt, and I still never know when I start a story whether it will ever be finished.
That’s the difference between me and Dan. The daughter? While she’s a lot like me, I’m thrilled that she followed Dan’s path, and got those hours in… For her, it’s just a matter of watching this space.